When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter Six

I returned the next day and was met by an exuberant Mippy.  She was almost dancing as she said “he’s coming home!  He’s coming home!”

I admit that for a second, I was considering calling the men in the white coats, but I listened as she cheerfully said “my dearest Jus is coming home!”

I sat down at the kitchen table and noticed that all the petals, save one, had fallen from the rose in the little glass vase.  Mippy hadn’t picked them up and put them in the little pink bowl.

A shiver went down my spine as I asked “when?”  She said “today.  My beloved is coming home today.”

I asked her how she knew that it was him.  She said “they found his wedding ring, his dog tags and some bone fragments.”

I noticed that she had put on her wedding ring and had pushed her sleeves up, exposing the bracelet on her left arm.  A sadness came over her as she looked at her arms, covered with the brown spots that are typical with age.  She put her hands on her now wrinkled face and said “oh, my.  I have gotten old.”

I said “but he won’t be able see you Mippy.”

She said “oh yes.  He’ll be able to see me.  He has seen me every day since the day he left.  He lets me know that he’s near by pulling a petal off my rose and I’ve always known that when they were all gone, he would come home.”

I wasn’t sure what to think or say but I hoped that something about the rose in the little glass vase was magical.  I hoped that the kind of love Mippy and Jus had for each other, wasn’t confined to the realm of what could be explained.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang.  Mippy’s eyes filled with tears and we watched the last petal fall.

 

Y Diwedd.

 

When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter Five

I wanted to know more about the rose.  Maybe Mippy replaced it every time it wilted and started losing its petals but as I looked at it, I somehow knew that it was the same rose I had seen since I was a little girl.  I knew it, but I also knew that it couldn’t be possible.

As if Mippy was reading my thoughts, she said “I know you are wondering about my rose and you have asked how it could still be alive after all these years.  I believe it has stayed with me as a symbol of the love between me and Jus.  Every time a petal falls, I know it’s him, telling me that he is thinking of me, and telling me that one day, he will be returning to me.”

“But Mippy,” I said, “it’s been over fifty years.”

“Yes, but my love for him is as strong today as it was the day I said goodbye to him on the train,” she said.

Mippy smiled and put her hand over her heart as she said “true love knows no boundaries.  It’s ethereal.  Those of us who get to experience a great love are truly blessed and even if our physical being dies, the love never does.”

As we watched yet another petal fall, Mippy said “I long for the day when my thoughts no longer make a sound and when my heart no longer aches with every beat.  I believe that will happen when Jus finally comes home.  Sometimes at night, when I’ve just drifted off to sleep, I think I can feel his arms around me.”

I didn’t want to hurt Mippy’s feelings, but I said “you do know that he’s never coming home.”

Once again, Mippy acted as if she didn’t hear what I said as she picked up the petal and put it into the little pink bowl.

I told her that I needed to get back home.  I had a lot of packing to do.  Mippy said “oh yes, child.  You’re going to college and you’re off on an adventure the likes of which you’ve never experienced.  You have an opportunity that I never had, nor did your mama.”

She got up and hugged me.  She said “I want you to know how very proud of you I am and I want you to know that I have loved every minute we have spent together.”  She surprised me when, with a twinkle in her eye, she said “maybe one day, some fetching young man will give you a rose.”

Sometimes I wondered if Mippy had escaped into her own little make-believe world, when love was forever, no one ever went away and roses never died.

I told her that I would be back tomorrow and it was probably the last time I would see her for quite a while.

As we got to the door, we both turned and looked as another petal fell from the rose in the small glass vase.

 

 

To be continued_______________________

 

 

When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter Four

I could only imagine how Mippy was feeling as she continued.  She said “I got a letter from him and I think he wrote it on the train.  She smiled and said “he wrote, ‘my darling Maggie for Margaret’.”  Then she looked at the rose and said “it was the only letter I got from him.”

What did it say? I asked.

“No,” she said.  “That part of the story I keep private.”

She said “after a month, the letters I sent to him started coming back.  I knew that those boys couldn’t say much about where they were or what they were doing, so I thought maybe he was on some sort of secret mission and couldn’t tell me.”

Mippy said “what he didn’t know was that I was expecting your mama.  I wrote to him and told him but the letter came back.”

“So he never knew?” I asked.  “No,  He never knew,” she said.

“After six months, I got a telegram.  I waited an hour before I read it.  I didn’t want to know what it said.”

Mippy took a deep breath and seemed to be trying to steady herself before she told me what the telegram said.  She had memorized it.

She said, “it was addressed to Mrs. Joseph Unwin Sinclair.”

“THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY HAS ASKED ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH UNWIN SINCLAIR IS PRESUMED TO HAVE BEEN KILLED IN ACTION.  THIS PRESUMPTION UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF THE MISSING PERSONS ACT ON 31 MARCH, 1968.  I EXTEND TO YOU MY SINCERE SYMPATHY FOR YOUR GREAT LOSS.  A LETTER SETTING FORTH THE CIRCUMSTANCES ON WHICH THIS PRESUMPTION WAS MADE WILL FOLLOW.  AGAIN ON BEHALF OF THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY PLEASE ACCEPT HIS SINCERE SYMPATHY.”

She said “he went missing on his birthday.  He was only 21.  For years, I held out hope that he would be found and would return to me.  Eventually, and I can’t tell you when, but eventually I lost all hope.  You know, they say that hope is always the last to die.”

Mippy didn’t cry but I think she wanted to.  I wanted to.  Maybe she had already cried all of her tears and crying wasn’t going to bring her beloved back to her.

She said, “He never really got a chance to live, you know?  He never knew that he was going to be a father.  He never got to build that swing set.  He never got comb grey hair.”

Mippy raised her left sleeve.  At that very moment, I realized that I had never seen her wear short sleeves.  When I was a child, I saw things from a child’s eyes and it never occurred to me to wonder about the way she dressed but I remember that even when it was hotter than blue blazes, she had on a long-sleeved blouse or a sweater.

When she raised her sleeve, she was running her finger over a steel colored cuff bracelet.  She showed it to me and said “I have worn this bracelet ever since I got that telegram.  It’s a POW/MIA bracelet and it bears Jus’ name and the day he went missing.

I said “Mippy, you have been alone all these years.  Did you ever think about marrying again?”

Mippy looked at me and said, “no one could ever hold a candle to Mr. Joseph Unwin Sinclair and I wasn’t alone.  I had your mama…and I had my rose.”

“But that rose,” I said.  “That can’t be the same rose he gave you all those years ago.”

Just as Mippy and I looked at the rose in the small glass vase, another petal fell.

 

To be continued_________________

When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter Three

Mippy came and sat back down.  Her eyes scanned the room as if she was looking at it for the very first time.

She smiled and said “after we got married, we bought this little house.  I was going to make curtains for the windows, have a garden outside and I wanted a white picket fence all the way around the yard.  Jus was going to build a swing set for all the children we were going to have.”

She was silent for a minute as she looked at the rose in the little glass vase.  I asked “what happened, Mippy?”

“There was a war going on,” she said.  “Young men were being called to arms, whether they wanted to go or not.  They had what they called a draft lottery back then and when your number was called, you had to go.”

She looked out the window and said, “I was hoping that his number wouldn’t be picked.  I knew that all numbers would eventually be picked but I was hoping his would be far away or that maybe the war would be over when it was picked.”

I asked what she meant by a draft lottery.  She said “all the days of the year were put into blue plastic capsules and then placed in a deep glass jar. One by one, the numbers were pulled out.”

She said “I remember sitting at his mama and daddy’s house.  The numbers being picked were on television.  We watched as they picked those numbers out of that jar.  #38 was pulled.  That meant that all the young men born on March 31st would be going”

She looked at he rose and said “Jus was born on March 31st.”

I said, “are you talking about the Vietnam War?”

Mippy said, “yes child.  The Vietnam War.  A horrible, wretched, senseless war.”

I had heard about that war but it happened way before my time and it had faded into the background as the years went by.  My only experience with war was when the “war on terrorism” came to the forefront and even then, I was very young and didn’t really understand about war and death and the cost of freedom.  People talked about that war but no one ever seemed to want to talk about Vietnam.  I got the impression that there was some sort of stigma attached to it.

Mippy said “after his number was called, we only had one month until he had to go.  I spent most of that time crying at night after he had gone to sleep.  I prayed and promised and begged and pleaded.  I would have almost sold my soul to the devil, if it meant that Jus would return safely to me.”

“I remember the day he left” she said.  “My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying.  I thought my heart would break right there at the train station but Jus asked me to be strong.  I took comfort trying to picture him in his uniform.  I remember thinking that he was going to look so handsome and even though I didn’t want him to go, I was proud that he was serving our country.”

“Before he got on the train,” she said, “he handed me this rose and promised that he would be back.  He winked at me and said “and I’d better see that rose sitting on the kitchen table.”

I looked at her and said “Mippy.  That can’t be true.  That rose would have to be at least fifty years old.”

She ignored me as if I hadn’t said anything.  She said “he told me that he wanted me to think of him every time I looked at the rose and know that he would be thinking of me.”

Suddenly, she had a look on her face that I had never seen.  It was anger and rage and repulsion.  She said, “what those boys went through there, ‘in country’, as they called it, and what they went through when they came back, well, at least the ones who made it back.  I know this.  None of those young men who made it back, were ever the same again.  You can’t look at something as horrible as people getting blown up and shot to death and not feel changed.”

Her focus abruptly returned to the rose in the small glass vase.  She smiled once again as she looked at it.

“I wrote to him every single day,” she said, “and I wrote the letters right here at my kitchen table, looking at my rose.”

 

To be continued____________________

 

 

 

 

When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter Two

Mippy began to tell me the story about the rose.  I listened with focused intensity as she began to weave a tapestry of life, love, hope, despair and loss.

“When I was your age, I was fresh out of high school, just like you,” she said.  “There was no money for college so I had my sights set on getting a job at the Telephone Company.  They paid well and although I had no experience, I was hired based on my perfect attendance record in school.”

I interrupted and said “you never missed a day of school?”  She smiled and said “not one.  I went through all twelve grades with perfect attendance.”

I said “I never knew that Mippy.”  She smiled again and said “there are many things about me that you don’t know.”

She looked at the rose and continued.

“I walked up town to work every day.  One day, Just as I was about to cross the street, I saw a man leaning against a telephone pole.  He was the most handsome man I had ever seen.”

She laughed when she said “I was staring at him so hard that I didn’t even realize I was walking out in front of a Taxicab.  When the driver blew his horn, it startled me.  I stumbled and fell down.  This man…this beautiful man, came running over to help me.”

“For us,” she said, “it was love at first sight.  We had what you would call a whirlwind romance…a fairy tale romance…a romance for the ages romance.  We were crazy in love.”

“Mippy!” I said.  “You are waxing nostalgic!  I’ve never heard you talk this way before.”

I was still being mindful of what mama had told me years ago…to not mention my grandpa to Mippy, but I wanted to hear more.

Mippy stared at the rose and said “his name was Joseph Unwin Sinclair.  His people were Danish immigrants who had come here generations ago, for their taste of the great American dream.”

It was at that moment, I realized that Joseph Unwin Sinclair was my grandpa.  The grandpa I had never known.  The grandpa no one ever spoke of.  The grandpa that mama didn’t want me to ask Mippy about.

She laughed and said “I called him Jus and he called me ‘Maggie for Margaret’.”  She laughed again and I could see a twinkle in her eye as she said “he always called me ‘Maggie for Margaret’.”

Her voice trailed off and I could see such pain in her face.  I asked if she wanted to continue or if she wanted to talk about it later.

She said, “I’m fine dear.  Sometimes, reminiscing about the past makes one so very happy and so very sad at the same time, but the story of the rose needs to be told.”

She reached into her apron pocket and took out a ring.  It was a simple, gold band.  I had never seen her wear it.  I didn’t even know she had it.  As she gently put it on the proper finger of her left hand, she said “six weeks after we met that day in the street, we got married.”

Her eyes began to tear up when she said “How I loved him.  How I loved him so dearly.”

Suddenly she said “oh!”

A petal fell from the rose and rested gently on the table and I watched as she carefully picked it up and placed it in the little pink bowl.

 

 

To be continued_______________________

 

 

 

When The Last Petal Falls – Chapter One

Strange things happen in this world.  Some make us laugh, some make us cry, some make us gasp in horror and some make us wistfully nostalgic.

This is the story of an ordinary woman who was born, lived for many years and then, as we all do, died.  No monument has been erected in her honor.  No likeness of her stands in public a place.  You will never read about her in a magazine, nor will you celebrate a holiday created just for her.

But those of us who knew her, tell not of an ordinary woman, but of a remarkable woman who experienced an extraordinary ill-fated love story.

Her name was Maggie Sinclair and she was my grandmother.

For as long as I can remember, I called her Mippy.  I spent summers at her house and I always looked forward to my visits.  I remember Mippy being a jovial, carefree, vociferous woman but I never really understood what her life was about until I got much older.

I remember the single rose that lived in a small glass vase, sitting on her kitchen table.  Mippy told me that I could look at it and admire it but I must never touch it.

When I was about twelve, we were having our regular oatmeal breakfast and I happened to look at the rose, just as a petal fell.  Mippy looked at it and smiled.  Then she carefully picked it up and put it in a small pink bowl with several other petals.

When she came and sat back down, she smiled and said “one day, I’ll tell you the story about this rose.”  Being twelve, I’m not sure I had a hankering to hear about a flower but I remember her face when she looked at it.  It was a sad, bittersweet smile but I could see the light behind her eyes.

The rose was one of those things you grow up seeing, not paying any attention to, and most likely, not missing if it wasn’t there.  Sort of like grandpas.  I had heard about grandpas.  I had read about grandpas.  I had even seen what looked like grandpas.  I had a grandpa but he lived far away in another state and I had never met him.  He was my daddy’s daddy.

When I was old enough to understand, mama told me not to ask Mippy about my other grandpa, because it might make her sad.  I didn’t miss him because I didn’t know him.  I didn’t think about him because I’d never seen him.  For me, it had always just been Mippy.

As I grew older, my visits with Mippy waned a bit.  I missed her oatmeal breakfasts, beans and cornbread dinners and the popsicles we always had on a hot, summer day.  She was getting older, too.  Her hair had turned grey and she had lost a bit of the spring in her step.

I spent my last summer with Mippy, just after I turned eighteen.  Times had changed.  I drove to her house instead of my daddy bringing me.  We sat at the kitchen table and talked about grown-up things, like college and boyfriends.

I remember looking at the rose, still living in the small glass vase.  Petals had continued to fall and the little pink bowl that kept them was almost full.

I remember thinking, “how can that rose still be alive after all these years?”

 

To be continued______________________